Richard Zaldivar was born in Los Angeles in 1952. His dad was Mexican, his mom Mexican-American. Richard’s family was deeply Catholic and early on, Richard developed a deep relationship with God that evolved as Richard changed and grew. He never felt he had to leave God behind to be a gay man or a forceful advocate for society’s dispossessed.
Richard also felt a deep call early on to get involved in the sometimes-dirty work of politics. His first job was as a field deputy for Los Angeles councilman Art Snyder. He later served as a community liaison for then-Los Angeles City Attorney and future mayor James Hahn. Simultaneously, Richard organized youth and senior citizen support groups and co-produced a local radio talk show. At the age of 28, Richard was elected as one of the youngest appointees to the National Democratic Convention Platform Committee.
The dark side of Richard’s professional success was his personal battle with alcohol. In 1989, he finally fell to his knees, asking God’s help, but also resolved to find help on his own. Getting sober gave Richard the ability to tackle the biggest challenge of his life.
In 1993, recognizing the need for a space where cultural barriers to HIV/AIDS education and outreach could be addressed and overcome, Richard organized the first annual Noche de las Memorias (Evening of Memories) for World AIDS Day. That night, Richard shared his vision for an AIDS monument to memorialize those lost to AIDS, and provide a place of remembrance and healing for those still here. Ten years later, The Wall / Las Memorias AIDS Monument became a reality – the first publicly funded AIDS monument in the U.S, and the basis for a grass-roots HIV/AIDS service organization that is still going strong and growing today.
Richard’s HIV/AIDS advocacy has been recognized in Los Angeles and far beyond. In 1997, OUT magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential Gay or Lesbian Persons in the US, and in 2013, Richard received the LGBT Pride Recognition Award from the California Legislature.